German playwright Frank Wedekind knew the sordid truths about sexually blossoming teens and captured them in his 1891 play Spring Awakening, telling a controversial story so explicitly honest that the script didn’t get produced for 15 years.
More than a century later, singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik and playwright-poet Steven Sater found an inspired, 21st century way to tell a new version of Wedekind’s story: Keep the kids in 19th century Germany but add a sometimes-blazing, heartbreakingly touching contemporary rock score to underline the timelessness of a teen’s interior life.
Spring Awakening, winner of the 2007 Tony Award as best musical, arrives Tuesday at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts for a six-day run.
What makes this musical different, director Michael Mayer observes, is that it expanded the way songs can function in a musical.
“Much as I love and treasure classic musicals, they can come off as hokey,” Mayer says. “We’re not pretending that these actors are singing in character; they’re not trying to act the song. That comes as a huge relief to people who don’t like the artifice of musicals. It’s very Brechtian, actually.”
Spring Awakening does have its detractors, mainly because of its content, which includes sex straight and gay, masturbation, child abuse, nudity, abortion, suicide and death. But that content is all Wedekind.
Christy Altomare has been playing Wendla, the character originated on Broadway by Glee star Lea Michele, in the touring company. She says that the show attracts people of all ages but more and more, young teens are coming out, sitting in the onstage seats or waiting at the stage door.
Altomare has appeared opposite seven actors playing Wendla’s crush Melchior. The characters have a sex scene with brief nudity, but Altomare says it isn’t hard to play.
“It’s more like a dance; it’s choreographed so well. It’s completely dark around me, and I can’t see anyone but my acting partner,” she says.
Canadian actor Jake Epstein, will play Melchior. “It’s incredibly grueling, so I’m lucky I love the show,” says Epstein, a veteran of the popular Canadian TV series Degrassi: The Next Generation. “It makes you crazy, it’s such an intense story line. But you can’t half-ass your performance. The show doesn’t allow it.”
That love scene? He admits that it’s tougher for him.
“I find that scene terrifying. I feel scared, excited, crazy … this mix of emotions. Is it love? Is it lust? Is it violence? It’s not my job to decide. I have to be in the moment.”